Monday, May 30, 2011

Hybrids: Admitting that you have a problem

It is time for an admission. I am addicted to hybrids.

Rather, it's probably more fair to say that I am addicted to complexity. Building characters with a large amount of interlocking parts is simply more fun-for myself-than building characters that don't have a large amount of interlocking parts. So much for "Elegance in Simplicity."

As thus, it pains me to say this but, "Hybrids are fundamentally broken."

Fundamentally, the game was not designed with hybrids in mind-feat requirements have assumed you're one class, possibly two, not three. But it's worse than that-the root underlying concept of hybrids doesn't hold up.

Here's the idea: When you're a hybrid, the obvious intention is that, in order to get the benefit of your hybrid, you have to be doing something that covers that half of the hybrid. Ranger quarry? Gotta use a ranger power. Sneak Attack? Rogue. Combat Challenge? Have to use a fighter power.

Except that, in practice, there's just way too many ways of getting around this restriction. Minor action attacks, MORE minor action attacks, marking an enemy through a means other than Combat Challenge-hybrids aren't "Two different characters as one" so much as "My class And More!"

Is there a solution? Probably. Have I determined what it is just yet? Not really. Is the mere existence of hybrids a threat to the very solidity of 4th edition? Not really. But when the root is rotten, you can expect to get some twisted results. As they say: Garbage In, Garbage Out.


  1. When I first read the hybrid rules, I was amazed at how non-broken they were. I was half-expecting an optimizable mess like the 3E multiclassing rules (which I really liked, mind you, but where nowhere near balanced), and couldn't think of a way that they could fit into 4E's tight structure. Yet they did - at least, up to a point.

    It is true, like you say, that 4E wasn't designed with hybrids in mind - or, rather, that the final implementation of 4E classes didn't support hybrids, because I suspect that they must have experimented with that kind of rules at some point in development. At any rate, I think they handled the issue pretty well, with a clever system that works out most of the time.

    Yes, minor action attacks break hybrids, as do immediate action attacks. But I'd argue that it's those powers that are fundamentally broken, by throwing out all game assumptions about action economy, and greatly screwing with encounter power balance. And, anyway, exploiting hunter's quarry is rather tame, when you consider the crazy things that can be done with a ranger, hybrid or otherwise.

    Take out those stupid powers, and hybrids look much better. Sure, you can still double up on class features when you spend an action point, and perhaps when a warlord helps you, but that isn't such a big deal, and it will usually involve some significant sacrifices.

    Not that the system is flawless - there are some classes whose hybrid implementation feels particularly lacking, mostly due to lack of features to split. The prime examples are Swordmages and Wizards, which lose almost nothing in the hybridization, to the point that going single-class doesn't look all that appealing. I would strongly recommend changing hybrid swordmage aegis so that its use was tied to having made a swordmage attack on the previous turn, much like other defenders.

    So there are some problems with the hybrid rules, but I'd say those are specific cases, rather than a fundamental flaw

  2. Strikers are only fundamentally broken if you include minor actions and immediate action attacks, yeah. Defenders are only broken if their defender feature isn't keyed to their attack powers-aka, the case with Battlemind and Fighter (I have a swordmage fix elsewhere on the blog BTW). Controllers don't focus heavily on class features to begin with, meaning that there's little they can lose in the first place, and leaders-well, you're better off playing a Primary Leader, but Leader + Whatever is almost always better than just Whatever.

  3. The thing is, if the game were consistent in linking hybrid striker and defender features to the use of their class powers, the system would more or less work out.

    Controllers compensate their lack of features with above average powers. A controller attack provides roughly the same value as a striker attack + the corresponding striker extra damage, or a defender attack + the corresponding mark mechanic. Therefore, any combination of these three roles allows a character to switch role depending on the attack used each turn, but doesn't add up to more power than a single-classed character.

    Leaders are left in an odd place. Their attacks should be weaker than a controller's, and lack a boosting feature to match a striker or a defender - but the hybrid gets a healing word to compensate, which isn't tied to the use of a class power. So, in theory, you could take any Striker/Controller/Defender, and gain an extra healing word by 'sacrificing' an at-will, encounter, and daily attack. This can be a decent deal for many builds, but outside of Twin Strike spamming rangers, I wouldn't say it's free of cost. At the very least, you are spending a feat into hybrid talent to keep up with features.

    What kind of classes can be said to become strictly better when hybridizing? If we close the swordmage loophole, wizards lose much of their appeal. We still have rangers, because they never really cared about their second at-will, but I'd blame Twin Strike there. Apart from that, not many examples come to mind.

    Then again, this analysis begins to fall apart when we consider how much Essentials basic attack spamming classes have boosted certain attack-granting leader powers (i.e. Commander's Strike and friends). For certain party builds, a warlord or shaman can arguably outstrike the party striker with leader powers... but that is a whole different problem.